Addresses on 1 John
1 JOHN 5: 1-5.
"Every one that believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God, and every one that loveth him that begot loveth also him that is begotten of him. Herein we know that we love the children of God when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous. For all that is begotten of God overcometh the world, and this is the victory that overcame the world, our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?"
Here the apostle lays bare the root of the matter in hand. There is in the case another relationship of far deeper significance than that of "his brother," that is, of one brother to another. How is my brother related to God? For it is the same subject as in the last chapter carried into the present one. And it is very important to have all answer from God to the question now raised, Who is my brother? There are many serious and pious persons who seem to have great difficulty in answering this. No doubt the scattering of God's children, who were once gathered together in one, adds to the perplexity. Are my brethren the persons who compose the same religious communion? For any that think so, the love that God expects goes out to those in the same community, whether right or wrong. The community may be wrong or according to God; but even were it right in itself, the present state of ruin in the church is a reproach Godward, and makes the path slippery for most. The reason is that it may shut one up to a party fellowship, instead of looking to God's mind, the grief I ought to feel at confusion and disorder in divine things, and the danger of swerving from His will.
Let us not forget the essential feature of what becomes a saint is his separation to God, by His grace, from the world; not only from evil but to Himself in Christ. Sanctification is altogether imperfect if we leave out God, and only dwell on the avoidance of this or that evil. For clearly one might be separated from five hundred evils, yet in one thing drawn into fatal compromise, and thus not be truly in communion with God and His will. The separation might be ever so well intended, but not trustworthy, though likely to make the separatist self-satisfied. For when souls leave out God and His word as a whole, they are apt to have too good an opinion of themselves. But where Christ and God Himself are before the heart, what leads to more real humility?
This is exactly what we all need: to be perfectly happy by grace, yet nothing in our own eyes. Nothing but Christ for ourselves consciously in the presence of God harmonises these two blessings. You may find a person humble apparently but not holy, and a person apparently holy but far from humble. Neither is according to God. It is but affecting humility in one case, and sanctimoniousness in the other. They are self-deceived; Christ alone gives reality. Never trust those who accredit themselves as humble or holy. They remind one of the Old Testament description, "righteous over much." We have such always with us, but we need not trust them. For the most part they are those who say and do not.
But here we have the all-importance of knowing who they are that one is called to love. The apostle answers the question when things were becoming more and more difficult; and we need to be assured of God's will. Although the state was critical yet compared with our days orderly, where now it is anomalous, the test given is not that of outward communion. Today we see children of God, some here and some there, and Satan too successful in making them share ecclesiastically with almost every evil under the sun, so that real fellowship according to God's word is utterly swamped. Even God's children for the most part shirk the consequences of fidelity. So much the more do we want an absolutely unfailing, test who they are whom we are called to love, and here it is: - "Every one that believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God; and every one that loveth Him that begot loveth also him that is begotten of Him." He is God's child, and my brother. We are to love every one begotten of God, even "whosoever believeth."
Further, the way in which this faith is here described is remarkable too. The apostle John does not here look at Christ in glory, as he did in 1 John 4: 17. He does not even dwell on Christ's death and resurrection. There is no statement of redemption. It is the person of Jesus, and the person put in the simplest possible way as "the Christ." How good and wise on God's part! There are many that know a vast deal about the Lord's sayings and doings, who overlook His person. Such are not true believers. Here much is made of the simplest believer, if true to His person; and he who does not believe that Jesus is the Christ is no believer at all. He who does truly confess and believe Him thus might be quite ignorant of His many offices, and ignorant of God's purposes and counsels of glory, but he has the right object of faith before his soul as far as it goes. He might feebly apprehend Christ's priesthood, or His advocacy, and not at all His headship of the body the church, and His supremacy over all things, and any other grand truths and ways of the Lord, of which the New Testament is full. Such lack of knowledge is no proof that he is not a child of God; he has gradually to learn these things.
Here is a test in order to set our relationship to God on its right basis, and give our love its due direction. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ - the Anointed of God - whom He sent into the world to give life and be a Saviour, he is our brother. The apostle was inspired to come down to the lowest step on which one could rightly look at our Lord. It is not at all the particularism of Christ in glory, any more than of appreciating what is presented to faith in His work for our sins. The apostle does not warrant the thought that those and those alone are true Christians who are led at once to the gospel of Christ's glory; nor does he allow that those are the sole objects of love, who have believed as Saul of Tarsus did on the road to Damascus. John was inspired at the last epoch, when this Epistle was written to encourage the faith of the simpler souls who had never as yet heard of these things; but he would have them on God's part recognised as His children, and entitled to that love which is here urged on every saint.
Narrowness here is precisely what the Spirit of God detects and sets aside as dishonour to God. It is divine life, not ecclesiastical fellowship, which commends him who is begotten of God to the love of all alike begotten by Him. He lays down a quite opposed principle of the largest grace. If God has opened the heart to believe that Jesus is the Christ, perhaps of one placed in difficult circumstances and rarely hearing the truth of God, we are to welcome and heartily own and love him as begotten of God. As Jesus the Christ has become the object of his faith, our place is to gladly acknowledge one thereby brought out of darkness and death to life everlasting. It may be very little in point of knowledge; but our duty is to make the most of a real work of God. For so it surely is if the soul rests on the blessed person of Jesus as the Christ. He is born of God just as truly as this brother who seems to have entered rapidly into some of the deepest truths of the New Testament. We are called to love the one no less than the other. We are to love them both simply, truly and divinely. Such is the manner of the love enjoined; though we dare not speak of our measure in it.
And this is of practical moment; for some Christians are by no means so pleasant or agreeable as others; but all such natural difference is quite outside this love of which the Holy Spirit speaks. Christ gives and forms the objects of grace independently of the old nature and character; and if love then prevail, it is all the more to God's praise, where there was much to repel and dislike naturally. But life in Christ rises superior through the Spirit to all that is of flesh; and this is to God's glory, not man's. Many a Christian however has been misled by wrong thoughts instead of being properly confirmed in the truth. One soul has never been taught that we only begin, after conversion, to learn God's mind in His word. Another has been unhappily led to admire, like a Jew, fine buildings, and grand music in His worship, and thinks his prayers are more acceptable in a cathedral. If you do not know any one, even as a believer, so dense and ignorant of gospel liberty, there is at least one here who remembers it in himself.
The fact is common and beyond doubt that there are very many children of God altogether unacquainted with the ways of God who know no better. Now am I to slight a soul in that condition? Certainly not. If he be one who simply and truly believes in Jesus as the Christ, my heart is to go out to him as unfeignedly and warmly as to another ever so familiar with the truth and faithful in the ways of God. Only love is to be exercised according to the state. It needs the Spirit's guidance with discernment and consideration. Is he a weak one, easily to be hurt and east down? Is he so strong as to be able to bear plain speech and profit by it? It is rather a dangerous thing to uproot a habit of religion from a believer and destroy it without implanting the due truth to fill up the vacuum. They shall be all taught of God, says the Old Testament as well as the New. We need His guidance to act wisely as instruments of His grace in supplying the lack by a better knowledge of Christ and of God. Is not this the true way?
Perhaps if one began by attacking the pomp and show and natural attractions of the cathedral, it might shock the immature believer, used to these "beggarly elements" as the right thing. On the other hand one ought not to give the least appearance of accepting these Jewish things as Christian; that would be uncandid and unfaithful, mere pandering to the person's flesh and superstition. But all shows how much grace one needs to meet a saint who knows yet but little grace. How often one fails here! If we have to do with those who really stand in grace, they bear readily with much weakness; but with those who have little sense of grace, we need much grace to treat them according to God. Since God loves them, there is no reason why we should not, and every reason why we should. God loves all that are begotten of Him. There is the ground of our love, and the clue to all the difficulty. "Every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth also him that is begotten of Him."
We have not far to search in order to see that principle in the case of a family. If one goes into a household where he has a great regard for the head of it, what effect will that have on him as to the children? Assuredly to love them all. One child may be rather trying and noisy, liking to tease and apt to be turbulent, and too often falling out with his brothers and sisters. Another may be gentle and attractive above all the rest. But the question is, Do I love them all? Certainly I love every one of the children if I love the parents.
Divine life discloses goodness in the children of God, viewed with a single and loving eye. Nor, as the rule, is there more than a little trial for the love that we owe them; but on the other hand also we have to remember the trial that our shortcomings may give to them. Yet if these were tenfold more than they prove in fact, here is His word to me and to you: If we love God, we shall surely love His children; not merely those that we see from day to day, but those that we do not see. Whatever the strange appearances, the mistakes or even the wrongs to be blamed, all that only alters the way in which we are to show the love. Never allow the thought for a moment that we should not love them. Perhaps circumstances may be so bad that we can only pray, but let us pray in love before God. Let us also reflect how far our love stands the test toward the saints we believe to be in the wrong. Do we seek their good? Are we earnest that the truth should reach them so as to deliver them from any prejudice or prepossession? We can always make good our love in God's presence. There is little love if we be not exercised about these things and using means, both with God and ourselves, in whatever way He may lay it on our hearts. It seems to me that this is the clear consequence from the principle that the apostle here lays down in this verse.
Another principle comes before us in the second verse. "Herein we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments." One can hardly conceive anything less logical according to the system of the schools. They would call it arguing in a circle, which is counted bad reasoning. But what has logic to do with the truth, with the grace of Christ, with the love of God and of His children? What has logic to do with life eternal? It is not a question of reasoning but of faith. Who can wonder that men who cannot rise above logic or learning or science are misty, yea, blind and lost before any characteristic truth in God's word, and find His love and its fruits all unintelligible or false according to dialectic rules. For there is no food for the soul in disputation; and if man could find bread for this life, "man liveth not by bread alone, but by everything that goeth out of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live" (Deut. 8: 3). The Christian has found the way of life and of divine love, and the workings of the Holy Ghost through God's word. He therefore bows to this remarkable word. "Herein we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments." Thus are the various truths bound up together in one. It is the reasoning of the heart purified by faith, not only down from God, but up to Him again, blending obedience with the love of God and of His children. This is a most wholesome guard against deceiving or being deceived.
If this way of apostolic appeal be going round in a circle and sounds strange to Peripatetic ears, what can be more truly divine and worthy of God? Man cannot understand it, "because love is of God;" and we must have the love in order to understand such words. Never can one understand the practical ways of God without having the new nature which He communicates to the believer, which lives in both obedience and love. The life in Christ is given to him that believes on Him. When the believer is assured of this, intelligence follows, of which the Holy Spirit is the power that works in the new man. But the more we appreciate such grace toward us, the more the truth strikes, and fills us with praise as we see how it comes of sovereign grace in Christ, and all the Godhead shares in it, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can see how grace passes from the simple believing in Jesus as the Christ to the depths of God's nature, and constrains us not to take the truth without weighing the wonders of grace in it, nor to go on with our souls unexercised from day to day.
Is there any epistle more calculated to act on the believer's heart than the one now before us? If read in faith, there is certainly nothing to disturb our abiding in love. Christ has made this to faith a settled thing for ever. The truth of the gospel is the basis for God's abiding in us and our abiding in Him, no less than for the practice of loving the children of God which we know when we love God and keep His commandments. Divine love in Christ shines on a poor sinner, and gives him confidence that he is the object of perfect love, totally different from human affection at its best. For he is made not only a saint but a child of God. Only God could so love; and Christ His Son came to show it fully, and in order to do so, and blot out our sins, died as a sacrifice for us. This was not as man or the world gives; and it was made perfect, not only by the Holy Spirit coming to abide in us and with us, but in that we now in this world are as Christ is before the Father. For all the evils of us and in us are met and cleared by His death, and we have His risen life as our life, His Father our Father, His God our God; while we are in the world that crucified Christ. Soon is He coming to receive us to Himself that where He is we also may be. Meanwhile there are others who are God's children as we are, and He calls us to love them as He does. As they are in the same relationship and position, all is made plain. If God loves, so do we His children; and He makes it a matter of command to love our brother and to love them all. If we love not them, we do not love Him but deceive ourselves. This then is an end of that question.
But how is the love to the children of God to be shown? It is inseparable from loving God and keeping His commandments. It is not true love to them, if we fail in love to God or in keeping His commandments. Is not this a remarkable and heart-searching turn given to loving them? Is it not a matter for serious consideration? What a cheek to easy-going indifference! Suppose a child of God to be entrapped in an offence against God, either in false doctrine or in any practical way, what then? Is it love to sanction the evil thing, to make light of it, or to join one in it though a brother? "Herein we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments." It is not loving God's children when we show how little we love God by indifference to His injunction. Thus we have the principle of obedience affirmed in a new way to cheek the abuse of loving those who are sinning and call for censure. If we trifle with sin, if we slur over evil and wrong against God under the pretext of loving the children of God, we cannot know that our love to God's children is a reality, but a snare to us and to them. If through any cause we slip into disobeying God's will, all is wrong in our souls, and we have no certainty in our paths; for we have ceased to enjoy communion with Him, and we are in danger of humouring instead of loving the children of God. It is no longer true that we love them in a divine way. But if on the contrary we by faith introduce God into the question as One that the heart loves, then keeping His commandments follows, which forbids human yielding where He is concerned, and we have confidence that we love His children as in His sight. This is therefore an important test to judge our souls before Him. It is a truth which goes deep indeed, and closes the question by His word.
"For this is the love of God that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous." Thus the Holy Spirit gives not only a test in ver. 2 but a counter-test in ver. 3. It is not the love of God, or of His children, if we are disobedient. True love of God obeys, while it also shows itself in loving His children, and not our set or party but all His own. We cannot separate obedience from love. If it is not obedience, neither is it love. If it is divine love, obedience accompanies it. "And His commandments are not grievous." It is the estimate of the apostle and of all who are before God with confidence in His grace. It is the truth pronounced by the Holy Spirit. So the Lord Himself, in Matt. 11, declared His yoke easy and His burden light. But there is in the way of the children of God a constant hindrance, greater perhaps than anything else. At first sight you might think of the flesh. But no: near as the flesh is to us, there is a more serious difficulty. When the flesh in Christians breaks out, they are conscious of shame and sensible that they are wrong. But the world is a subtle malaria around us; and, when it affects us insidiously, we may remain unconscious what it is that produces spiritual dimness and inability to enjoy the Father's love or to return it. This again is what alienates the children of God one from another in various ways, and corrupts in proportion as it influences. If the heart values the world, it is stolen away from God's children as those whom God would bind together with the nearest of family ties, and would have love to be ever flowing in the Spirit's power. This the world utterly forbids; for it loves its own in its poor selfish and heartless way. Thus no small danger arises for the saints who seek its ease and honour. It is a pitfall for these and other reasons. If a Christian wants to stand well with the world, he must please it to the grief of the Spirit.
Men cannot tolerate the love of God's children, because it condemns the world. They are unwilling to associate with such as love the brotherhood, and ask if these low people are really your companions. How can you make such folk your special friends? If a saint wants to keep up a position in the world, the difficulty is at once felt. The gentlemen and ladies you court refuse to let you shame them with those of your intimacy they despise. This is and must be the spirit of the world. Yet you, a child of God and heir of heaven, wish to stand well in their eyes who crucified the Lord of glory! In their presence therefore you seek to avoid even a brotherly notice of poor children of God who are to reign with Christ and before the world too! Is this love to God and to His children? Is it loyalty to Christ, this anxiety of yours to be on good terms with the world? Then His commandments are more or less grievous. Is this not so? Where do you drift? These gentlemen and ladies, are they God's children? You do not say so; but they are nice people! Even if you hope they may be God's children, know you not that friendship with the world is enmity with God? "Whosoever therefore is minded to be friend of the world is constituted enemy of God." Do they not pursue the same principles and the same practices which cast out the Son of God from the world?
This is how we ought to look at the world because God so looks at it. It matters not how long ago it is since the world crucified the Lord. The sin is just as fresh now before God as when the fatal deed was done. No real change has come for the world since that day of guilt. It either claims the Christian relationship, or it denies it to those who believe. "What presumption to call Him your Father!" "Righteous Father," said the Lord, "the world knew Thee not." They might think it serving God to persecute those presumptuous men whom Christ is not ashamed to call His brethren, and who claim God as their Father. "Worst of all, they say He is not our Father, only theirs." What is more offensive to the world than drawing the line - presuming to have heavenly blessings and privileges which the world has not?
Do you plead that it is not exactly for yourself? But you have a son or daughter, whom you desire to have a fair place in the world: you have given it up for yourself, but there are the children! This is often the way in which the worldliness of a parent's heart is shown. It is not the earnest desire for the child to be in Christ, and God's own child. The practical aim first is to secure a good place in the world, though they pray that the child may be saved too. Meanwhile the unceasing effort is to advance the children in this present life. What is this but the world, no matter how it may be put in different shapes? It may not always be said, but the actions prove where the heart is. This seems to be the connection between vers. 3 and 4.
God's commandments are grievous chiefly through the evil influence of the world. "For all that is begotten of God overcometh the world." This is a searching appeal when we think how the children of God pander to the world. In general there is an utterly vague sense of what the world is. One has often been shocked among sober and real Christians to find on asking them what is the world, that they avow themselves unable to tell. Not a few think, since even the masses are baptized that, with the exception of open infidels, the world is gone and that Christendom has replaced it to the glory of God, if not for individual exactitude, at any rate in the moral sense of the expression. But let us not be deceived by Satin or appearances, were it incomparably better than it is. Christ is always the touchstone of truth. Is Christ now the life, the object, of mankind in any country under the sun? Where He is all this and more, simply and truly, it is not the world. Christ gives living consciousness of and rest in the Father's love; and where this is enjoyed in the Holy Spirit, it is not the world. But where other objects than Christ attract and govern the heart, and the Father's love is unknown or counted an impossibility, the world remains in unchanged opposition. Can any question be of greater moment, if we have not already decided it by faith, than that we should examine ourselves and test our conscience, heart and ways? For it is an easy thing to let the world gain advantage in detail, even where in the main we seek to be faithful. Is it not dangerous, if we feel ourselves hazy, to shrink from the scriptural test? Divine love assuredly binds us, if we see more clearly, to help one another, instead of yielding to the unloving habit of spying out inconsistencies in this one or that, is an excuse for being mixed up with the world in divine worship and ways. There is nothing of Christ in anything of the sort.
Here we have the assurance that it is not the mystic recluse, nor the highly spiritual only, but that "All that is begotten of God overcometh the world." Does not this stimulate is well as encourage the simplest child of God? Have not all such been begotten of God? There is the principle laid down plainly. Not a single real Christian is exempted from the privilege any more than the responsibility. As every believer now is an object of God's love and in the relationship of His family, so he "overcometh the world." "And this is the victory that overcometh the world (not service, not sacrifice, nor even love, but) - our faith." Do you believe this, Christian? Be not faithless here but faithful. It is by faith in our Lord Jesus that we are brought to God; so too that we are kept of God; it is so that we discern and repel the enemy; and so do we obediently rest in His love who deigned to call us His friends.
Faith is the victory that overcame the world; but how? This he next adds. It is "he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God." It is now not as "the Christ" simply. It is the same Jesus, but the apostle goes farther in the expression of His personal dignity. And it is always so with the real soul. One might well begin with believing that He is Jesus the Christ, or one might have had presented to faith yet more than this, - though it was glad tidings to hear on divine authority that God anointed Jesus, having sent Him into the world for the everlasting good of those who believe; and this is the Christ. But here we are told of His glory above the world as the eternal Son of God. Is not this far beyond His being the Christ or Anointed on the earth? He was Son of God before the world, and however the world or His earthly people reject, His glory as the Son of God will survive heaven and earth. He that came down was God humbling Himself in love; and He that went up was Man after redemption exalted above all the universe, Jesus the Son of God. He, who is God and man in one person fills the Christian's heart, and shall fill all things. We no longer look at Him only as the Anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power who went about doing good and healing all those domineered by the devil. We see Him in heavenly glory, we are. enabled to appreciate Him in His eternal relationship to God, no less than to ourselves and to all else.
This is His title to explain the character of the faith that overcomes the world. How could it be otherwise? Grace in Him attracted our hearts when lost, gave us life, and died for our sins; then the new life is called into exercise in the knowledge of a divine glory that dims and annuls the false glory of man and the world, and of a love that brings us into actual relationship with the Father and the Son, creating kindred duties, according to the entirely new place into which sovereign grace has now brought the Christian. The life we receive cannot but rise to its source, and as the grace better known gives it more power by the Spirit, we rise in our appreciation of Christ and of His word. Hence is seen the bearing of the truth that He is not only the Anointed coming into the world on His errand of divine mercy but the Son of God with a personal glory irrespective of any such mission, which is only enhanced by the world's ignorant contempt of Him to its own ruin. He is the Son of man who went down into all the depths to glorify God even as to sin and to save the lost. But as He was the Son of God before the earth and the heavens, so He abides when they shall perish. Hence this glory of the Lord Jesus is brought forward as that which strengthens faith against all difficulties from the world. For "Who is he that overcometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?"
It is a soul that did not settle down in the truth received when first converted, but having tasted its preciousness was led on by the Spirit to know Him better in relation not only to its own circle but to God and His glory. "To him that hath shall be given"; and the diligent shall be made fat, yet better still have the joy of apprehending His love and His perfections. This therefore gave power over all the world could do in hatred and frown, any more than in its attractions, ease, or honour. Faith ever sees in the world the murderous hatred of the Son of God. Are we then to fear what we must abhor? "In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good cheer (be courageous): I have overcome the world" (John 16: 33).
The ever deepening faith in the glory of Christ is the main preservative against the world. As Satan is its prince with no end of wiles to mislead and injure, we need all that our Lord is even as Son of God to overcome in the conflict to which our very blessing in Him exposes and commits us. To be assured that the God of peace will bruise Satan under our feet is excellent; but to rest on that final victory alone would be a snare for our souls. We are here to defeat him now and always, as Joshua exhorted Israel; and we must be faithful in little things every day if we are to overcome in great difficulties.
Hence we may see how the Lord in His epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia expects it in every one of them, and gives special and suited promises to invigorate the faithful individuals when He could not count on the declining assemblies. See too how, when it was not only the Balaam spirit with Nicolaitanism as in Pergamos but the yet more audacious Jezebel in Thyatira, it is there that He presents Himself as the Son of God, the rock on which He builds His church superior to the power of death. It is life in Him that fits us for fellowship with the Father and Himself; but in order to overcome the world and enjoy the fellowship, faith in the Son of God must be fresh and firm by grace, and the Christian world so-called (as many are not ashamed to call it) becomes more painful and disgusting than the gross and open heathen world. So it is to the Father and the Son. The Patristic corrupters of the truth used to teach that if people got baptized, even if living wickedly, their sufferings in hell would be mitigated through their baptism; but the Lord had ruled the contrary if they had only an ear to hear. "That bondman who knew his own lord's will, and had not prepared [himself] nor done his will, shall be beaten with many [stripes]; but he who knew not and did things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few" (Luke 12: 47, 48).
Oh let us see to it that, simple and strong in the faith that Jesus is the Son of God, we too may overcome the world!
1 JOHN 5: 6-12.
"This is he that came through water and blood, Jesus Christ; not by (or, in the power of) the water only but by the water and the blood; and it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth. Because three are those that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and the three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; because this is the witness of God which he hath witnessed concerning his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself; he that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he hath not believed in the witness which God hath witnessed concerning his Son. And this is the witness that God gave to us life eternal, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not life."
The verses last before us in the beginning of this chapter indicate both those whom we are to love according to God, and that this love is inseparable from obedience. Divine love in the Christian cannot be without obeying God's commands. It is not so with natural affection, as this too is entirely independent of obedience. Christian love is the spiritual activity of the new man, and as it goes out to all that are God's children because they are His, it cannot go out to any apart from subjection to God's will. Love must take a different shape if dealing with the disobedience of such as are bound to obey God. In every case divine love and divine obedience are supposed to be inseparable in the believer.
Then we learn that there is a present enemy against us in both respects, an enemy which children of God are apt to overlook in its insidious character. The youngest have reason to feel that what is called in scripture "the flesh" is a source of hateful and selfish evil, though alas it is easier to detect its uncomeliness in another than in oneself. Indeed it is part of its deceivable working that we are as quick to discern (if not imagine) its offensiveness in another as we are slow thoroughly to judge it in our own case.
But the world is often a subtler snare. It has its own code of decorum, while it offers many an object which is pleasant to human nature, and to many real Christians; its religion (the worst part of it in God's sight) has powerful attraction. The world therefore is a far more dangerous enemy than the flesh. An outbreak of the flesh is not only disreputable but humbling and a distress before God, even to a comparatively small measure of spirituality. But the world to a large extent seems respectable, and consequently, where not a saint would fail to discover the ordinary works of the flesh, most are apt to make excuses for the indulgence of the world. Now the world is the direct enemy of the Father, so much so that the love of the Father as such can never have power or be enjoyed where the spirit of the world prevails. It has often been remarked and is evidently true, that in Scripture as the world is opposed to the Father, so the flesh is to the Spirit, and the devil to the Son of God. But opposition of and in this triple evil to the Trinity Satan works for mischief through the world and the flesh; and we have the comfort that God the Father works for good through the Lord Jesus by the Spirit. We may distinguish the different forms of evil, but in fact they often coalesce in practice, and so also it is in the working of the Godhead; and greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.
This brings before its the testimony of God in the world, which appeals to man and forms His own family. It is therefore through faith in the word which reveals Jesus the Son of God. It is not a matter of reasoning nor of affection, any more than through a rite applied by a special class of men. It is through God's testimony dealing with the conscience of the sinner, purifying the heart by the faith which rests for atonement on the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus. "This is He that came through water and blood, Jesus Christ; not by the water only, but by the water and the blood." For God gives special witnesses in order to act on man under the pressure of uncleanness and guilt, whether believers or unbelievers - unbelievers that they may bow to Him and the truth; believers that they may be purged in conscience, enlarged and strengthened in their faith.
Here then we are led from the person of Christ, which had just been before us, to the work of Christ characterising His person. For His work it is which furnishes the witnesses. God deigns to give us more than sufficient testimony. Two witnesses were required in the things of man with man, two sufficed, three better still. Here God provides fully. He presents to man three witnesses of the greatest conceivable weight for leading into the truth. "This is He that came," neither by human birth, might, or wisdom, nor yet by divine power or glory. It was not through His incarnation nor through His unequalled ministry. "This is He that came through water and blood, Jesus Christ." He who was the true God and life eternal came to die as truly as any man, yet as no other could die, He by God made sin to save sinners and wash them, not only purified inwardly but in God's sight whiter than snow through His blood. Yes He came to die, for His death alone could blot out our sins or glorify God as to sin (John 13: 31, 32). The allusion is unquestionably to our Lord on the cross, dead already, pierced by the soldier to make sure of His death, out of whose side flowed blood and water. In the history the blood is that which caught the eye first of course, and so there first named. The water was observed however to flow also. Whoever saw or heard of a fact so extraordinary that blood and water should issue out of the side of a dead man? Yet so they did here.
The Gospel of John (John 19: 33-37) had drawn attention to it more than to His most stupendous miracles. "But when they came to Jesus they broke not his legs; but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that hath seen hath witnessed, and his witness is true, and he knoweth that he saith true that ye also may believe." It was really from the dead Man. God furnished this preternatural sign of a work peculiar to the incarnate Son of God alone; and the Spirit of God thought it so significant for His glory and man's reconciliation as first to record it signally in the last Gospel, and next to apply it to us in the Epistle before us.
"This is he that came through water and blood." Adam did not become father of the race till sin entered and death began its work. So our Lord became Head of the new creation when He rose, having borne our sins, the Firstborn of many brethren. Through "death" (not birth, as Puseyites, Irvingites, Rationalists, and other errorists are alike now asserting) He annulled him that had the power of death. Till then the Levitical system with priests, sacrifices and earthly sanctuary had God's sanction. Then only was the work finished, and Christianity began on the basis of one efficacious offering and a risen Saviour, soon to be glorified in heaven. Hence as Paul, in restating the gospel to the volatile Corinthians, began with Christ dying for our sins according to the Scriptures, so in enforcing God's testimony the apostle John passes all else by and comes to the Lord's death for purification and atonement. Here he begins with water, the well-known figure of the cleansing power of the word, as we read among other Scriptures in John 3: 5, there the Spirit co-operating, as here "blood" follows. The word of God first deals effectually with souls. God speaks to our conscience thereby, and brings us in guilty. His word, never tradition or any rhetoric of man, proves us deaf, stubborn, sin-defiled in His sight. But how precious it is henceforth, so to speak, as flowing from Him thus!
Consequently the washing of water is from the riven side of Him that died for sinners. This enhances its force immensely. So before He died the Lord laid down, "He that is bathed (i.e., washed all over) needeth not save to wash his feet." The person receives but one bathing; the feet need to be washed throughout the earthly pilgrimage. Christ's advocacy is what really meets the daily failures, not the Lord's Supper (a profane as well as an ignorant misuse of it); and the Holy Spirit applies His word on the ground of His death, whenever the need arises; but there is once only for the Christian "the washing of regeneration." Nothing but the death of Christ gives us clearance from sin. We may indeed feel and hate the sin, and judge ourselves because of it; but there is no clearance of the soul apart from Christ's death. "This is he that came," etc. Such is the grand truth that was before God in Christ's death. And Christ is here summed up for the testimony of God in His death. How deep the truth! How incomparable the grace which could so speak to us!
But it is not only true that this is the purifying power brought to bear on us from the threshold of Christianity; His death was as absolutely needed on God's side as on ours. Here of course it was not for cleansing but for expiation. Sin had dislocated and thrown all here below into a moral chaos. The cross established divine order for ever. Without it how could love and light, grace and truth work together? How could love bring to heaven the sinner whom light disclosed to be only fit for hell? If grace pleaded for mercy, what could gainsay the truth that he is a heartless ungodly enemy? In the cross God's nature and attributes find perfect vindication and harmony. There God is glorified in the Son of man; and it is His righteousness thereby to justify the merest, yea the worst, sinner who truly believes in the Lord Jesus.
Hence it is that He came through "blood," and it is added, "not by water only, but by water and blood." God's majesty, His authority, His word, His holiness, His righteousness, no less than His love, were all concerned. But now in the death of the Son of man all are harmonised and glorified in absolute perfection, as could be in no other way; and if God there rests in everlasting delight, He is working by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven to reveal it by His word to all that receive Christ, and His word by faith.
But what did the Lord's having come (for it was the end of His earthly life) by the water and the blood tell concerning man? The awful truth that man was so utterly bad that even a living and divine Blesser, who deigned to become man in His love to man, did not and could not draw man out of his evil and enmity. It must be a dying Saviour. "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life" (John 5: 40); "Except the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone" (John 12: 24) 1, if I be lifted out of the earth, will draw all to me" (John 12: 32). Christ's death is the overwhelming proof of man's moral death, and now is by grace the basis of the best blessings of God. How it demonstrates that the law of God could only condemn man! It no less proves the total ruin of human nature in every class. Though all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Jesus bodily, even it could not deliver man from his sins short of Christ's death, who thereon risen is the fulness and pattern of the new and heavenly estate of man according to divine counsels of grace.
It is not easy to render adequately the two prepositions in ver. 6, which are nevertheless alike rendered "by" in the Authorised Version. For the first used once (dia;) is here given "through," in order to distinguish it from the second (ejn) which has a stronger force expressed fully by "in the power of," but perhaps sufficiently as "by." The first, looking symbolically at water and blood as the means of meeting man's extremity, conveys that the Lord Jesus came to make this good for the believer's deliverance from defilement and from guilt. In the next and emphatic clause "in" is employed, which here as often would mean "in the power of," and hence "not in the power of the water only, but in the power of the water and the blood." So lost was man that Christ come on his behalf, though God and man in one person, was unavailing through anything but death to purify and atone. And so did He in fact come in or by His death in this full power. There was His death infinitely efficacious in itself for the foulest and guiltiest of sinners, even if not a soul had believed. But God's grace would and did work, so that there should be faith in Him, and hence "by the water and the blood."
But there is another addition of great moment. "And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth." All know that the Lord Jesus speaks of Himself as "the truth." How then is the Spirit also called the truth, though God the Father never is? The word, as the written or verbal answer to Christ, is also so designated, which we can readily understand, the word which the Holy Spirit employs for glorifying Christ to and in His own. But the difference seems to lie in this, that Jesus the Son is the truth objectively before us, the Spirit as the power that works inwardly in the saint to realise and enjoy Christ. Two deep wants must be met in order to be blessed of God. The truth we need from God for conscience, heart and mind; and it is given fully and perfectly in our Lord Jesus, the truth objectively. But there is "sin" in the old nature which resists what condemns; and even when a man is begotten of God, vigilance against its working out is always necessary here below. How is this met? By the Spirit of God, who is therefore the truth as the inward power for bringing home and applying the truth which is found in Christ outside. The Holy Spirit makes the object of faith received and intrinsically prized. He is the appropriating energy to the new man, life in Christ. In this which is a very needed and real thing He too is the truth inwardly, though we cannot quite correctly say subjectively. In simple English, we look on the Lord as set before the eye of faith; and the Spirit is the power within our hearts. As the truth is the revelation of every one and every thing as they are, we can understand why the Son and the Holy Spirit can alike be called the truth, but neither God as such, nor the Father, because in neither is the revealer, though by the Son and the Spirit fully revealed.
If you listen to theology (that is, the attempt to make revealed truth a "science," as rationalists and ritualists love to do to God's dishonour and to their own grievous loss), they talk of God as the truth. I remember, years ago, meeting a celebrated but sceptic foreigner of the Romantic school who, though to me he discarded the Voltaires and the Rousseaus, laid his main stress on God being the truth. To a mutual friend he tersely if not reverently reported the difference, in that he saw God for himself, I only "through the spectacles of Jesus Christ." Yes, he deceived himself that he saw or knew Him in any real way. God in Himself is entirely above creature ken. Man requires a mediator who is man no less than God, in order that we should be enabled by the Spirit to know Him. Thus only can truth be known. God as such is not the revelation of God (nor man's conscience, nor his reason), but Christ as object, and the Spirit as the inner power for the new nature. How is God revealed? In Christ. Christ is the Revealer outwardly, as the Spirit works inwardly, and the word is the revelation of God or the truth. Christ might be before us every moment of our life, and we no better for it, unless the Holy Spirit co-operated with the word in enabling us to receive it by faith and thenceforward in the new life.
But the apostle had more to say in his few but pregnant words. "For three are those that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three agree in one." It will be noticed that the order is here reversed. Historically it was the blood, the water, and the Spirit sent from heaven in honour of Christ's redemption, to give the saints the abiding Paraclete, and to spread the glad tidings universally in God's power, not in man's, though working through man. God gives three testifiers, which agree in one testimony; but in spiritual fact the order is, "the Spirit, and the water, and the blood." Of course, literally speaking, the personal witness is the Holy Ghost, and He too is the present living power. The water and the blood are but figuratively called witnesses, and so are personified. But the Holy Spirit is a true person in the Godhead; and one of His special functions, like the Son's, is to bear witness on earth, He of Christ, as Christ of God and the Father. "And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth."
But the text here has suffered, whether by inadvertence or by design. Be it said briefly that from "in heaven" in ver. 7 to "on earth" in ver. 8 is not scripture but an interpolation. It may have been at first a mere marginal note, copied afterwards as the text by men that did not understand the truth. The history of the case has been fully and minutely traced, the result of which is that the same grounds which make the New Testament text certain elsewhere prove this insertion as certainly to be a human accretion. Let me however show that any Christian who does not know one Greek word ought to be satisfied that it is spurious. Such a one requires neither men of learning nor even the fruit of their researches to decide the question for himself. The word of God itself is amply sufficient and perfectly conclusive.
First, what is the meaning of bearing witness "in heaven"? When you weigh the thought, is it not (I will not say unscriptural only, but) rather folly? How could there be such a need or fact as to "bear witness in heaven"? The natural denizens in heaven are angels who never needed witness borne to them. They were elect and holy. In their case witness is superfluous. The fallen angels are irreparably lost, having left their first estate, some delivered to chains of darkness, others as yet allowed, like Satan, to accuse the saints whom they tempt, and to deceive the whole inhabited earth. Neither is witness for them. The spirits of the saints gone to be with Christ, what possible witness can they require?* It is on earth that witness is needed and is given by God's grace, because men are steeped in darkness and lack the truth. Pilate only expressed the ignorance of all the world in his question, What is truth? He was otiose, and like most waited not for the sure answer. None could find it exit unless God gave competent witnesses; and here they are, His three witnesses, "The Spirit, the water, and the blood."
*There is another internal proof that the three who bear witness in heaven is human error, and not the revealed truth of God. No inspired man ever wrote, "The Father, the Word." They are not correlative terms. In scripture we have the "Word" with "God," and the "Son" with the "Father." The editors of the Complutensian Polyglot first printed the unauthorised words from some recent MS. of no account, even if not written since printing came into use, and perhaps to authenticate the Latin Vulgate for Romanists use against its old and best MSS. One of the Greek MSS. represents it in such bad Greek as only an ignorant and non-Hellenist can have written, omitting the article where required.
By the way, it may be well to advertise any limited to the English Bible, that the "record" is the same thing as the "witness." Both mean God's testimony to man; as in John 5: 22, 23, the same word rightly rendered "judgment" appears wrongly as "condemnation" and "damnation." It is a loss that the word was not, especially in the same context, translated in the same way, because it leads people to fancy there must he some difference, as indicated by two or even three English words. "Three* are those that bear witness," but without "on earth," the last words of the interpolation. These words were unnecessary, because only there does God give His witnesses; and the object is to present the truth to those who do not know it. Thanksgiving and praise characterise heaven, not witnessing. But here, if we receive the witness of God ourselves, the love of Christ constrains us to bear witness to others who are still sinners as we were.
*It was a blundering idea after all to make six witnesses, three for heaven and three for earth. It supposes the Spirit in heaven answering to the Spirit in earth. It is as awkward to conceive the Holy Spirit an earthly witness also, as to imagine Spirit in the second triad to mean another, as some defenders of the importation contended. But it is needless to say more than that the Codex Ravianus as well as one of the Wolfenbüttel copies (in Berlin), is an evident forgery which Copies the Complutensian Polyglot in its misprints and the peculiar letters. The Codex Regius Neapolitanus (173 in Scholz' list) confirms the true text, and gives the clause in a correct shape only in the margin. The other two (Cod. Ottob. or Vat. 298, and Cod. Montfort. or Trin. Coll. Dubl. G. 97) grossly omit the article and are otherwise quite in error.
Now let us come to what the Spirit wrote. There is nothing but the truth there.
It has been already shown. how right the order is in verse 6, which puts the Spirit last, because the presence of the Spirit as the divine witness on earth not only followed Christ's work on the cross, but also is given individually since on the faith of the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. Consequently the water and the blood preceded, as in fact so in the dealing of grace with the believer. Is it not so that one receives the truth of the gospel? First the word of truth enters through an awakened conscience, and one comes to God as a sinner in the name of the Saviour. Then the blood of Christ is privately presented or publicly preached to him as the perfect sacrifice to meet his case; and, if he submit to God's righteousness instead of his seeking to establish his own, the Holy Spirit is given as a Spirit of liberty and communion. This last he could not have without resting on the all-cleansing blood of Christ. Thus the order in the soul's blessing by grace answers to the water, and the blood, and the Spirit, just as in the terms laid down in verse 6. So in the consecration of the sons of Aaron, the priests, first came the washing with water; then the blood of the ram of consecration put on the right ear, on the right thumb, and on the right toe (the organs of reception, of work, and of walk); and in the last place the anointing oil with blood from the altar sprinkled on them and their garments. What believer can fail to see how the type conforms to the New Testament reality in Christians now constituted a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices, the only priests and the only sacrifices in worship on earth now acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
But we come now to the witnesses looked at in the order not of God's dealings historically but of the operation in the Christian. individually. Now when we speak of three as bearing witness, the Spirit necessarily comes first, because He it is who not only has His crowning place but makes known in power the water and the blood for the soul's blessing. That is the reason of the difference in the next verse. "For three are those that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water and the blood, and the three agree in one" - three witnesses, jut for one united testimony. "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater." May I recall the divine relief and deliverance these words gave more than sixty years ago to a soul converted but harassed and deeply exercised through sense of sin which clouded his soul's rest on Jesus? These words chased away all doubt, and made him ashamed to question God's witness. It became God's application of the truth to him and no longer his applying it to himself, though not at all doubting the intrinsic worth of Christ's death for the sinner. It is not my seeing as I ought the efficacy of the blood, but resting by faith on God's seeing it, and God's valuing it as it deserves.
What then is God's witness spoken of in the beginning of verse 9? The answer is, "Because this is the witness of God which he hath witnessed concerning his Son." The troubled spirit just because no longer dead is intensely anxious for His witness about itself; and this agitation hinders it from hearing God about His Son. But this is the whole matter when one has given up oneself as good for nothing before God, a mere and lost sinner. Christ thus received on God's witness enables me to have done with myself altogether. What Christ is and has done gives peace. The Lord's death is the best proof that there is no life in the first man or his race. From Cain to the cross, bad as fallen man is elsewhere, his worst is when he professes religion and makes it his dependence and boast; as from the blood of Abel to the infinitely precious blood of Jesus we learn man's hatred to the grace and truth of God in Christ. But all becomes clear, though not always at once, to faith. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself; he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he hath not believed in the witness which God hath witnessed concerning His Son." Can any witness be simpler, clearer, stronger than God's in these few and plain words? Are they not meant for anyone brought to feel his need of such mercy? Oh the unbelief of calling faith presumption! of doubting that one is entitled by God's word to take Him at His word, to own Him true and faithful in receiving His witness concerning His Son! Can any seek a more thorough proof that man, however religious after the flesh, believes Satan and disbelieves God? Ordinarily nobody would think of doubting a grave man's witness. Everybody just as ordinarily doubts God's witness for himself, and runs down the believer as presumptuous if not a hypocrite.
How foolish too to listen to the enemy's whisper that you are too great a sinner for Christ to save. He came to save the lost: can you be worse than "lost "? What does not "lost" include? Think of the Samaritan; of the sinful woman in a city; of Mary of Magdala: all desperate cases, each different from the other; all saved, and given to know it; and all recorded that you too may believe and be saved. They were each saved "by grace," God's grace and not theirs, and "through faith," not feelings, or love, or service, or sacraments. The apostle thanked God that he had baptised few of the many Corinthians that believed and were baptised. Christ, he said, sent him, the apostle, not to baptise but to preach the gospel. It was in Christ that he begot them through the gospel, not through baptism, excellent for its own end as it is. But baptism never gave life to a single soul; Christ is the life-giver to all who believe, working in each individually by His word and Spirit, as He will judge all who reject Him to their ruin. What will He say to those who mike void His word through a tradition, and in place of believing God, put a rite to give life to His deep dishonour and to magnify their own office, as if they were mediators between the living and the dead? This is the real presumption, not faith which gives God the glory.
Eternal life is in the Son of God, the Second man. Such is the prime doctrine of the Epistle. To this we come round once more after the very striking use made of the blood and water from out of the dead Christ, with the gift of the Holy Spirit given in consequence, to the chief characteristic of the Epistle - eternal life in the Son of God. It is indeed one of the greatest truths in all Scripture, and of capital importance for the saints in our day. We have learnt by experience the mischief done by such as lapsed into undermining or obscuring it, under the vain pretext of new truth, while it was no better than old trash revived, a frequent device of Satan to accomplish his malicious purposes.
Well then, "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater." - What is so good, and wise, and sure? what so satisfying as God's witness? He knows all truth, and as the God of all grace has given His Son both to declare it and to make us capable of receiving it in a new life; and further, after redemption His Spirit is divine power both to enjoy it and make it known to our fellows. Therefore one can understand the weight of such a word as "the witness of God," greater than all difficulties.
And this triple witness of God is first of death written on all mankind by Him who drank the cup to the dregs, but His death issuing in a life without sin for us, though this for Him was always needless. That eternal life did not require any work for itself. It was our state of sin and death that needed His death for victory over all evil to God's glory.
"For this is the witness of God [which] he hath witnessed concerning his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself." "Ye receive not our witness," said the Lord to Nicodemus. Man must be born anew; he is incapable otherwise of learning according to God. Faith in God's word alone leads to being taught of God. The church ought to have been, like the Lord, a faithful and true witness But its state had already become such as to make it untrustworthy. What unfailing comfort then especially for the believer to have the witness, God's witness "in himself!"
But here, where was absolute need, and where by grace we have "the witness of God," how barefaced and faithless it is to call any soul to "hear the church"! Nay, the same word of God, which shows what the church was called to be in the world, equally shows that the church was to fall into all sorts of disorder. And remarkable it is in the two Epistles to Timothy that these two views are given: in the first Epistle the church in order, "the pillar and pedestal of the truth"; in the second Epistle, the church in a state of sad disorder. But the church is not the truth which the Christian is bound to hear and receive, though the corporate witness to it, as the Christian is the individual witness. Both the church and the Christian are called to hear as the truth nothing but the authoritative word of God. In 2 Timothy we learn that the Christian profession has become like a great house full of vessels to honour and dishonour. Therefore when the leaven was accepted and enforced instead of being purged out (1 Cor. 5), it became a question of purging oneself out from these radically settled evils, in order to be a vessel unto honour. Yet it is not for isolation, but "with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart."
But so far is Scripture from allowing such a claim that we learn from its final book, the Revelation, that each faithful soul is charged to hear, not what the church says, but "what the Spirit saith to the churches," and this expressly in each of the Lord's messages to all the seven churches. Can anything be conceived more opposed to the Lord's mind than such an assumption, as Christendom sinks into ruin?
But whatever be the state of Christendom the word of God remains ever true and applicable to the Christian, "He that believeth . . . hath the witness in himself." Were the believer in a land where he could enjoy no fellowship with saints, where he had no opportunity to hear a Christian teacher, where he knew of not a single brother in the Lord, the Son of God on whom he believes remains just the same; and he has the witness in himself as surely as if surrounded with every Christian privilege possible on earth. He is not dependent on any one under the sun; he has the Son. How profoundly wise and gracious is this witness on God's part! For in such a case how many might cry out, What audacious presumption! But "he that believeth hath the witness in himself," says God Himself. The audacity is in the infidelity which rejects it: "He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he hath not believed the witness which God hath witnessed concerning His Son." What could be worse than that? It is bad enough to lie about oneself, like a full-blown Brahmin saying that he had not sinned, though it gives the lie to the word. It is worse, not negatively only but positively, to make God a liar, and this every one does who rejects God's witness to Christ His Son.
"And this is the witness that God hath given to us life eternal; and this life is in His Son" (ver. 11). Can anything be more plain or precise? "God hath given to us," to every Christian, "life eternal; and this life is in His Son." Even an infidel, hardened as he is, cannot hear without emotion the calm and bright assurance which this faith and confession impart. He knows his own misery if he thinks at all. The believer's peace turns wholly on having God's Son, and life eternal in Him. Some of late have made much of life being said to be "in His Son" and not in us. They seem pleased with the idea, because they draw from it the desired inference that the Christian has not life eternal. Why this should make them happy it is hard to understand without remembering the blinding power of the enemy; and, sad to say, I do not forget when their joy seemed to be in the truth they now deny. Is it not horrible to pervert one Scripture into the contradiction of another? Here it is written that this "life is in His Son;" because the Spirit would comfort the believer with its security independently of himself and every other creature. In the Son is this life, where no evil can reach, no danger approach. It is his joy to know his life, the life eternal, in Him who is not only its unfailing spring but its divine preservative against all the wiles of Satan; and yet more, that he is in fellowship with God the Father, the object of his love and honour more than ever since redemption.
But John 5: 24 equally assures us that we have this life, and that God has given it to us here; as a crowd of Scriptures show that with redemption it is essentially ours as the only life which the Spirit finds suitable to work on and in. The natural life may help to explain. Life acts from the crown of the head to the extremity of the fingers and toes. But they are not the seat of life, nor even an arm or a leg, which may be removed without injury to that seat. Only in Christ there is no such loss. There the new life rises far above the natural. Christ is the central seat of life eternal; but even the babes have it most truly, and shall never perish. Our blessedness lies in the certainty that the life is in God's Son. This maintains it in all the confidence it inspires for every believer; but to turn it into a proof that the believer has not now eternal life is not only to evince personal unbelief but misuse of the word of God.
"He that hath the Son hath the life." It is inseparable from the Son. None can have the life unless he has the Son, who is the way, the truth, and the life. Not only is He God to give it, but as the glorifier of God, the Son of man who was also the Son of God. And God witnesses it of Him and of none else. The believer honours the Son by believing, and receives life eternal. The unbeliever dishonours Him and rejects the gift of life to his own perdition, but must bow when he is raised for judgment. Could life have been detached from the Son of God, so as to be in us only and not in the Son, it might conceivably be injured or decay; but inasmuch as it is in the Son, it abides holy and imperishable; and so it is that we have it, and know that we have it on His word. Every good work, every right affection, all true service, and acceptable worship, flow from eternal life in the power of the Spirit. It is impossible that the Christian could please the God and Father of the Lord Jesus without the action of life eternal; for now that life is come in the person of the Son of God, the Father too delights in our having this life and repudiates any other; for this life has its joy in knowing, serving, and worshipping the Father and the Son, as led by the Holy Ghost.
But let none forget the other and solemn side. "He that hath not the Son of God hath not life." If you who read these words be an unbeliever, beware, I beseech you. Why perish everlastingly? Why reject the love of God in giving and sending His Son? Why reject Him who tasted death for you? Yet He never did you anything but good, and what have you ever shown to His name but neglect, dislike, and despite as far as you could? Oh believe what God tells you of His Son. If you believe on Him, you have Him. It is impossible to have the Son of God and not have eternal life; but "he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." This is no less true than terrible: the unbeliever "shall not see life." "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things in his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath life eternal; and he that disobeyeth (or, disbelieveth) the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3: 35, 36).
Before closing let me remark two things of interest and moment. The first is the care to present life eternal objectively in the Word of life, the Son of God, in the first chapter. The apostle had freely given in the Gospel the Lord as giving life eternal to the believer in John 3, 5, 6, 10; but here he begins with the Word Himself as that life without one hint as yet about its communication to us. Yet it had been known as a truth familiarly before this Epistle was written. There was therefore a blessedly divine purpose to serve by saying not a word here about ourselves receiving, though the writer and the saints knew it already. Here then the aim seems to be to present Him as an object, so that we might delight our souls in Himself as the eternal life in divine being with the Father, and manifested in its perfection when manifested to us here below as Man among men. How immense the loss if there had not been in fact this objective manifestation of eternal life, the peculiar charm through the Gospel of John! So doctrinally there would have been in this Epistle if Christ had not been the starting-point and basis. And it is very gradually that we come to the open treatment of the communication of life eternal to us; in fact, it is only explicitly handled in 1 John 5 before us, the close of its teaching, as its objectivity in Christ was the beginning.
The second point appears also very suggestive. If there be any part of Scripture more than all the rest devoted to unfolding life eternal in Christ, and in those that are His by grace, it surely is the Gospel and the First Epistle of John. Yet Christian baptism is as absent as the Lord's supper from both. They are occupied with life eternal in all its fulness and power in Jesus the Son of God beyond all other Gospels and Epistles; and more than all they bear witness to its communication to the believer. Yet neither one nor other speaks of that Christian institution to which the declension from the truth in East and West, in ancients and moderns, in Episcopalians and Presbyterians, attributes it. The only shade of difference in Presbyterians from the rest is that their code of doctrine makes the life-giving efficacy of baptism contingent on election, but equally with the rest depending by divine appointment on baptism. The Scotch statement is as distinct as Calvin's for the Reformed abroad; and of course Luther went as far or farther.
But if Christian baptism be really, as tradition has taught wide and long, the means of quickening souls, how comes it that the Scriptures which are the fullest on life eternal and life-giving never notice it, and dwell exclusively on its being In immediately divine operation by the Spirit's using the word to reveal Christ to the believer? For it must be said plainly that it is as glaring a mistake to foist baptism into the "water" of John 3: 5 as into "the water" of 1 John 5: 6, 8. The apostle absolutely leaves institutions to dwell on truth vital and of everlasting consequence, and only alludes passingly to the baptism of the disciples during the days of our Lord's ministry in John 4: 1, 2, with the careful comment that He Himself did not baptise, He, though quickener of the dead. And the baptism before His death and resurrection was so distinct from what He commissioned after He rose, that persons so baptised were baptised in the Christian way even by the great apostle (Acts 19: 5), who thanked God that he baptised but few in Corinth, avowed that Christ sent him not to baptise, but to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1: 14, 17), and declared that in Christ Jesus he begot them through the gospel. Christian baptism is really to Christ's death, as Rom. 6 clearly teaches, and if we believe God's word; it has nothing to do with the impartation of life to the soul dead in sins.
1 JOHN 5: 13-21
"These things I wrote [or, write] to you that ye may know that ye that believe on the name of the Son of God have life eternal. And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he heareth us. And if we know that he heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him. If anyone see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and he will give him life for those that sin not unto death. There is sin unto death: I do not say that he should request for it. Every unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not unto death.
"We know that everyone that is begotten of God sinneth not, but the begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one. And we know that the Son of God came, and hath given to us understanding that we should know the true one; and we are in the true one, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and life eternal. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols "
It is noticeable how the Spirit of God repeatedly presses on believers not only that they have eternal life, but that they know they have it. It would be possible, as it was the fact before Christ, to have eternal life without knowing it, and assuredly even now there are plain workings and effects of that life where its possession is unknown to not a few who have it. Nevertheless the lack of discerning a deleterious influence always exposes him who is ignorant of so great a privilege, not only to a great loss of happiness in his soul before God, but to the practical result of lowering his standard of walk. How can such a one without the peaceful certainty of having life eternal avoid anxiety when the conscience summons as it were the heart to search and see whether he is after all a Christian after so much failure in his ways, and having to do with the tempter continually seeking to draw him into dishonour of the Lord, and then to produce distrust of God's grace?
Another reason why the Spirit of God so urgently and so repeatedly presses, not only the knowledge (gin.) but the conscious knowledge, as here (eijd.), Of having life eternal, is that in and since the apostle's day there have ever been adversaries of the truth who disputed the possibility of the knowledge of eternal life, so as to make it a very uncertain thing indeed. Such is the common road taken by unbelief in all ages, clouding certainty, often on the specious plea of our ignorance, unworthiness and liability to err, which is undeniably true enough. This however is not the question, but whether Christ has not fully and clearly revealed His gift of life eternal now to the believer. It is wholly false that this privilege is merely for certain favoured and highly spiritual members of God's family. The New Testament reveals it as meant for all who believe on the Son of God to know it as theirs.
Now nothing can be more certain than that God's love is toward every child of His family. Therefore is the word of God most explicit that this privilege was meant to be inwardly known, enjoyed and exercised in personal communion, worship, and walk of every Christian, however immature; just as the other life, the flesh, always utterly hateful to God, is now more than ever, through Christ and the given Spirit of God, made hateful to the saint. Hence the Christian has to disown and set aside the fallen life, and to walk by faith according to the only perfect model of Christ in his new nature, called here and in the corresponding Gospel "eternal life." It is the life of Christ, and now by grace "our life."
The apostle John had as his allotted task to unfold, not so much the Saviour's work of redemption - though he does speak of it, for heavenly glory, and God's great future purpose for the universe, or His counsels - as the personal dignity and grace of Him whose glory gave its value to the life He imparts as well as to His work. God could righteously and according to all that is in Him have delight in those counsels that are yet to be accomplished. Consequently all ground for dwelling on either worthiness or unworthiness on our part is taken away. It is no longer a question of the first man, but entirely of the Second, Christ the Lord. Our ground is what Christ is and has wrought as given us of God. What do His person and work claim from God, who above all appreciates Him aright; and for whom? Not for Himself certainly, for He needed nothing, as being the Son one with the Father, the object of God's love from all eternity. He came and gave up Himself to vindicate the glory and give effect to the perfect love of God as the answer to Satan's lie, who having rebelled against God himself sought to bring man under God's displeasure, and succeeded to all appearance. But His counsels could not fail, and God will surely accomplish them on the ground of redemption. For redemption was no after-thought, nor were God's counsels formed because of failure in anything He had instituted. They are indeed made known to us who believe after man's total failure here below. But as God's love, so His counsels were before even creation, as the apostle Paul shows in Eph. 1: 3-14, Col. 1: 26, 2 Tim. 1: 9, Titus 1: 2.
John in particular was given to enter deeply into the nature of God, and consequently dwells much on the Lord's eternal person as well as His incarnate condition, so as to stay the heart and raise the believer above the sad fact of the church externally departing to utter confusion, ruin, and the approaching judgment of God, who begins with His house. The still growing defection of Christendom is no reason why our confidence in Christ should be shaken or wane one iota. How then does the Spirit of God ever strengthen the heart? By pointing us to the eternal life with the Father before a creature existed and God came down, true Man in the person of the Lord Jesus, that eternal life might be our known portion not less really than in the day of glory. Of course it is now ours in Him by faith. But it is a strange doctrine that a "present" thing is not ours now by faith as truly as the "future" thing for which we wait (1 Cor. 3: 22). Only the case is still stronger for life in Christ.
Words could not be clearer than the Lord's in John 5: 24, or the apostle's in ver. 12 before us. We might acquire the knowledge (gin.) of what we expect to receive, but could not be inwardly conscious of what we do not actually possess. No Pelagian ever went so far as to deny that any Christian could have eternal life now, though he might explain away that eternal life. But to explode it altogether was reserved for a modern resuscitation of some Gnostic heterodoxy to which this Epistle gives no quarter. No orthodox sect ever adopted the deadly error.
But deadly error is now more rampant than ever; and infidelity knows no shame in our day. It would be difficult to mention a society of professing Christians having the reputation of being an ecclesiastical denomination, that has not scepticism as to the Scriptures at work more or less actively in it at the present moment. Even I can recollect when so fatal an evil was unknown save outside them. Nor had infidelity then covered their opposition to God's authority in Scripture with the veil of "the science of literary and historical investigation." They openly rejected His word, refused to sign articles of faith which asserted it, and renounced office and emoluments as the penalty. The present race relinquish common honesty and retain earthly honour and profit. Where will it all end? In the apostasy and the man of sin, as the ritualists in Satan's mystery, great Babylon, the mother of the harlots and the abominations of the earth.
Let us now consider the concluding remarks of the apostle. "These things I wrote [or, I write, as the epistolary aorist] to you, that ye may know that ye who believe on the name of the Son of God have life eternal." Grace found in us only sin and death: grace gives us the best God could bestow, and this by faith on the Lord Jesus His Son. And what so fitting or needed as life eternal, a divine nature that loves God and His Son and all that is good and holy; that hates sin and loves righteousness according to the perfect law of liberty, obeying God, not as a Jew under restraint but as our Lord did filially. And how ominous the school, who abandon their old convictions for novel and wild ideas, and say not only that you cannot know that you have life eternal, but that it cannot be for any now! Life eternal is the good ground indispensable. for what another apostle calls "good works which God fore-prepared that we should walk in them." Far from leaving any excuse for the doubters or disbelievers, the apostle here, as from the first, says all that should establish in Christ against any misleaders. He had shown. the supreme excellence and fulness of that life in Christ as the object of faith and love for souls at the beginning; now, in the last chapter, he insists on the believer's possession of it, and here in conscious knowledge. Is not this just as it should be? It is due to the Son; it is the delight of the Father; and it enhances the boon all the more to the believer. If it be the first gift of grace to souls heretofore, if it be that on which fellowship with the Father and with His Son depends, if it be that on and in which the Holy Spirit the Paraclete acts in power at every conscious moment of our Christian life, how immense the loss, how incalculable the mistake of all who imbibed the poison, and of all who for any pretext made light of it if they did not dissemble and try to excuse!
The reader has a close rendering of the best text ascertainable of what the apostle here wrote. As ver. 12 stands in the Text. Rec. and the A. V., it is deplorably confused and even misleading. Here it is as simple as it is important, so much so that there is no need to criticise what any Christian reader can do for himself by the bare comparison of the two. The Revisers give what is substantially correct.
Then comes another point of moment, confidence or boldness for the heart in our intercourse with God as His children. Without the consciousness of having life eternal, and the relationship of children, it would be impossible. No wonder that those who do not believe in either, as existing privileges now enjoyed, decry any such boldness as highly improper. How can they seriously read these words, and many more to the same effect, and fail to learn that God expects it from His children, and had such words as these written to encourage them in it, and to judge themselves for allowing any obstacle in its way? It is the main animating principle of Christian prayer. It ought to imbue our every petition. Not that where confident boldness is lacking anyone should suspend prayer. For we must not forget the Lord's parable (Luke 18: 1- 8) spoken to the disciples that they (not "men" in general as in the A.V.), should always pray and not faint. But a different entreaty is not the proper spirit for a Christian's prayer. He ought earnestly to seek that such a dead weight be removed, and that holy boldness be given him. The very fact of having life divine and redemption, as well as the nearest possible relationship to God in the midst of a world of unbelief (which has no real part in any of these privileges, yet deceived into thinking their religious position assured corporately if not individually) creates a constant crowd of dangers, difficulties and wants for ourselves and our brethren. The resource is prayer, which God encourages, even if it be not always the prayer of faith, but too often of sheer perplexity. We should, if the eye were single, pray more freely in the Holy Spirit; but we may ever encourage ourselves in crying to Him as our Father, who loved us when there was nothing to love, and loves us now as His children arrayed with the best robe, even as Christians are here in this world. If we had been left to choose the strongest proofs of His love to us, could we have asked anything to compare with what His pledged word declares He has given us in Christ?
Let us then, abiding in love, abide in God, and God in us. This through His grace expels hindrances great or petty, and gives us to have boldness through the love that is unchanging in the midst of all change. God is pleased with this boldness in counting on His care for us in the midst of our trials, our weakness, our need, in the sorrow that sickness brings, in painful circumstances, in all the ways in which we are put to the proof from day to day. What then should be our feeling? Have we boldness of faith in our present intercourse with God and reckoning on Him through the grace that delivered us from death and sins, that give us life and the Holy Spirit? and are we trembling and doubtful in the little troubles of this life? Is not this unworthy, and a strange inconsistency? Let us, by faith bold about the best blessings, have no less boldness about these least things day by day. Doubt not that He who loves us enters into all allowed or sent to prove us. Here are the words: "And this is the boldness which we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He heareth us." Surely we should be ashamed to ask anything against His will. His word lets us know what is His will, and what is not. But there is more: "And if we know that He heareth us, we know that we have the petitions which we asked of Him" (vers. 14, 19). Oh let us not doubt Him in these comparatively small trials, after having proved His infinite love in the deepest wants that can be! What a proof is 1 John 4 that in Christ is nothing too great for man, and in these verses of 1 John 5 that nothing is too small for God's love. How easily we forget to act at the moment when it might be for His answer, and then calls come in when it cannot be! Prayer is due to our God, and a rich blessing to us and for others. But it is not as it should be without the boldness which honours God's love to us.
Knowing that we are His children, and having life and redemption, let us judge every obstruction. In spite of sin and Satan we have even now these incomparable privileges, the harbingers of everlasting glory, and, better than all, we have the Son and the Father and the Holy Spirit. We are blessed with the Blesser. Those believers who defer this blessedness to the day of glory may be right as to that day, but are utterly wrong in excluding their proper joys till then. Now is the time when we need those blessings: they are wanted most in the evil day for God's glory, and for His children too. When the day of glory comes there will be no need of exhortation to boldness in prayer, for all will be praise. There is urgent call for such prayer now in this world with its difficulties and perils; withal it is the day of the richest blessing for the Christian when we know that Christ is in the Father, we in Him, and He in us. It is therefore just the time for this practical boldness in asking God for anything and all things according to His will: aught else we dare not wish. And we know that He hears us. How wrong to doubt it! Has not God proved His perfect and constant love to us? He may see good to prove us by a hard trial. He may let a Christian (perhaps caring for money as he ought not) lose every half-penny in a world where every half-penny is useful. He may not know whence his breakfast is to come. But is he to doubt God after all he knows of His goodness and wisdom, as well as of his own folly? He is to ask Him to do as He will, assured that He hears him, and that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him.
I remember, perhaps a half-century ago, a godly ex-clergyman asked in the open street by a friend how he lived, and his family. His answer was that he could not well say how, yet they did live by God's grace. Up came the postman with no words but a banknote, which he showed to the inquirer with the remark, "This may, perhaps, tell you how I live." Our God is a living God, and answers faith as He sees fit, whatever the circumstances. Heavy trial is an honour to a Christian now as to Abraham of old. There may be those whom the Lord tries little, because they are weaklings in faith and cannot bear more. But he who is strong in the Lord is sure to be put to the proof, and for blessing. "He withdraweth not His eyes from the righteous." But we are surrounded with need and misery and sorrow. We are not to be self-occupied with a lively sense of our own trials, and dull about others. We know others brought into the same relationship of grace suffering severely in one way or another. Am I not to ask of God as heartily as for myself, and to act as becomes a brother in Christ?
But bold confidence in God practically according to His love is for each and all. Accordingly we learn to distrust our own will, and ask only what we know is according to His. And with what result? "He heareth us." Privileged, yea pressed, with confidence to ask of Him who loves and knows all, we are taught to count on His answer of grace. And if we know [it is knowledge, not objective but inward and conscious] that He hears us, whatever we ask we know [it is here the same inward knowledge] that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him. What could so much embolden the believer? It may not be our thought, but His answer in a wiser, deeper and more intimate way.
All is founded on the love of God, who gave Christ for us as sinners and to us as saints, with the Holy Spirit to make it good in our hearts and our ways. But if God encourages us to ask with boldness, we are constantly exposed to miss asking according to His will unless we grow in the knowledge of His word. Here lies the practical value of cultivating a deeper spiritual understanding of the Scriptures. The word of God He magnifies above all His name; so did the Lord and the apostles; and so should we. What a wretched return for His love, and the abundance of truth in Scripture, and the gift to us of the Spirit who inspired its writers, to look for little else than personal salvation, and consign ourselves to spiritual starvation, blind to revealed riches of grace without end!
In vers. 16, 17 the apostle touches on the delicate case where we may or may not do well to ask of God. "If anyone see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask. and He will give him life for those that sin not unto death: there is sin unto death; not for that do I say that he should request. Every unrighteousness is sin; and there is sin not unto death."
This passage often raises difficulties, because of preconceptions imported into it by such as forget the moral government that ever holds good for believers. It is the question discussed in the book of Job, where his three friends failed so conspicuously. The New Testament sets it out plainly: see, among others, John 15: 1-10, 1 Cor. 11: 27-32, Heb. 12: 5-11, and 1 Peter 1: 17. It is so here. It is no question of the second death, but of a saint cut off in this world for a sin of such a character, or in such circumstances, that God chastises it by death. It might be, as we see of old, the removal of saints previously in high honour, as Moses and Aaron who greatly displeased Jehovah in Kadesh (Num. 20), or its immediate execution, as on Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). But the principle is explained by the apostle to the Corinthian saints, many of whom not only were old and infirm, but a good many had fallen asleep. "But if we discerned ourselves, we should not be judged [as all these were judged in varying degrees]. But when judged, we are chastened by the Lord that we should not be condemned with the world." This then was sinning unto death, the Lord's chastening of erring saints, expressly that they should not be condemned to the second death as the world is.
Hence it would have been quite a mistake of the Lord's mind to pray that a brother should have his life prolonged, when he had so sinned that the Lord meant him to die as a chastisement. The world, which does nothing but sin and refuse the Saviour, is reserved for that awful second death, the everlasting judgment. To bring this into these verses is nothing but confusion to the spiritual understanding. But in another way they mark the gracious way in which God deigns to keep our boldness unbroken and free, only guarding us from a mistake to which otherwise we were liable.
A lie is a great sin, particularly in a Christian. But it has too often been since early days without entailing death. The Spirit first given, and the great grace in all, and the marked power which prevailed gave a lie in that day its special evil in God's sight. The hypocrisy and deliberate agreement of the pair too, each denying Peter's solemn charge to each, so aggravated the case as to make it a marked sin unto death. For it was a lie made the more intolerable by the wondrous blessing which God was just giving in honour of His Son. How odious then in particular to pretend to a degree of devotedness that was utterly false! And so it was at Corinth: they were profaning the Lord's Supper besides by their misconduct.
This recalls a striking case that occurred years ago within my own knowledge. A brother who appeared to be in strong bodily health was suddenly laid aside; and I went to see him. As a medical man, he was a better judge probably than others. But he calmly told me, not without gravity and feeling, that he was about to die. There was no appearance of disease, nor could he say what it was; but he was quite sure his last on earth was come, and he added: "I have sinned a sin unto death," thereon disclosing to me what it was. He had no wish to live, neither praying nor asking me to pray for it. He bowed to the Lord's chastening, only grieved that his sin called for it, and quite happy at departing to be with Him. And he did fall asleep. He owned the Lord's righteous hand, and died without a cloud as to his acceptance.
This is a solemn way of the Lord, no doubt; but there is no reason for confining it to any particular age.
What then is the great difference? Not the enormity of the sin, but that the sin is committed under such circumstances as to make it egregious in the eye of God; and it just becomes a question for spiritual intelligence either in the man (the subject) himself who does not wish himself prayed for, with no desire to live whatever. In the case I mentioned he knew it was wrong to pray for him. I do not recollect any prayer made for him: indeed he died quickly. In ordinary cases it is the very thing we are called to do. Our affections go out towards a person who is ill. We love to think of them being here with us a little longer. We delight to know their Christian character, to hear of their faith tried in one way or another, and their patience under it; so that we need correction.
"There is sin unto death": rather than "a sin." "Every unrighteousness is sin." Every act of inconsistency with our new relationship is sinful. We are now left here to do the will of God. But it is only when aggravated by special circumstances of affront to God in private or public that such an evil act becomes sin unto death. Ordinarily it is not so.
Vers. 18-21 form a conclusion worthy of the Epistle. In those early times, when some who at first seemed to run well proved their lack of faith and life by abandoning Christ for knowledge (gnw'si") falsely so-called, and ended in hostility to the Father and the Son, the apostle takes his place with the believers whom grace enables to say, "we know" (oi[damen). Theirs was inward knowledge, though first learnt from without. With those not, born of God it never became the inwrought consciousness of their spirit. But so it is with every child of God. They had neither value nor desire for that external knowledge which beguiles and enchants the natural man. They were simply Gnostics; and what is really a shame was their glory, fable and philosophy, which characterised not only the antichrists but early Fathers, such as Clemens of Alexandria and the like. But not so true disciples, who find in Christ, viewed either on the earth (or in the heavens where "the mystery" appears as in the Pauline Epistles) all the treasures once hidden of divine wisdom and knowledge. And in this pursuit they have the Holy Spirit guiding them into all the truth, the old but ever new, and always fresh as no earthly knowledge can be; for he only receives of Christ's things and announces to us, as it is now in the written word.
"We know that every one that is begotten of God sinneth not, but the begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not." Here it is the divinely wrought conscious knowledge for every individual which is of immediate and deep concern for the Christian's heart, that it be kept up bright in his soul. In form it is a general and abstract statement, and no more, however faith may enter in and apply it. There is a shade of difference in the expression of "begotten" in the first clause and the second, though they equally belong to the same person, the Christian. The first is the continued effect of being thus begotten, the second the simple fact without question of continuance. If sin was a slight matter to Gnostic eyes, ignored by them or accepted as an unpleasant necessity (for these men differed not a little among themselves), it was a grave thing to God's children as it is to God. And it was alike a comfort and an admonition to be solemnly told that being begotten of God he does not sin, and the wicked one does not touch him. For God's word is living and energetic, unlike every other word; and the Holy Spirit abides in each Christian to give it power. Communion and walk, service and worship, fill up the life here below.
"We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one (or, wickedness)." There is nothing indefinite here, no toning down of the absolute contrast firmly and unhesitatingly drawn between ourselves, as the family of God on the one hand, and the whole world on the other in its awful subjection to the wicked one. With the same inward consciousness the Christians knew that their new being had its source in God Himself, and that the whole world lay in the power of the wicked one. What more distinct on both sides? God the source of all on the one; subjection to Satan as complete on the other. It is not the church, opposed to and by Jews and Gentiles; but "we are of God" in our own consciousness, and the whole world unconsciously under the wicked one's thraldom, as we too well know. This belongs to the new life to realise, appropriating by faith the known blessings to ourselves as is God's will.
"And we know that the Son of God came and hath given us understanding that we should know the true one, and we are in the true one, in His Son Jesus Christ. This [or, He] is the true God, and life eternal." The consciously known object of faith, as already come, is as momentous as the new nature, and its divine source; and here it is declared to be ours fully. We have here the same inward knowledge as before; "we know that the Son of God came," in clear contrast with the Jews who look for another to come wholly inferior in every respect; and with the Gentiles, who not knowing God and worshipping demons are still more ignorant, if this may be said. But He, the Son of God, who gave being to all things, did in infinite love become man, to give not only life eternal to us but Himself in atoning death for our sins, as is testified elsewhere.
"'Twas great to speak a world from nought,
'Twas greater to redeem."
But here it is said that He came to give us understanding to know the true One, the true God. For He alone was capable of being the perfect image of the invisible God in a world of darkness and shame and shadows, with invisible powers of evil behind them to give colour to falsehood and blind men against the truth. His is no idea so dear to deceivers, but a real divine person, life eternal as a living fact, on which is based the deep and high and holy truth which is known in Christ, of whom the church is the corporate and responsible witness-falling even then, and how much more since. But there is a resource for faith in the darkest day, and this Epistle has a large part in pointing it out more clearly and fully than ever, with divine authority in Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and unto the ages, to the individual believer as in Himself.
Here this unchanging privilege is briefly but powerfully expressed: "And we are in the true One, in His Son Jesus Christ." Thus it is explained that the manner for us to be in the unfailing security of the true God is by being in His Son; and this we know from His own words in John 14: 20: "In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father and ye in me and I in you" - not only to be in Him, but to know this and all else here stated. "That day" is now this day. Now could more be done than to give us divine nature in Christ, and give us to abide in God by His Spirit abiding in us? and it is all the more striking, because those who go on, content or not content with worldly Christendom, never seem to have even the notion that these wondrous privileges are meant for every child of God to realise and live. How full of meaning and blessedness are the closing words of this paragraph! "This [Jesus Christ His Son] is the true God and life eternal." He, of whom we are and in whom we are, is the true One, as against all false gods, or the falsehood of not having God; but as a fact He is unknown save in His Son Jesus Christ, for through Him only will He be known, who gave up all to accomplish it and fit us, through His nature given, to be in Him. He is the true God; and He is also eternal life, without which, given to us, we could know neither the Father nor Him whom He sent. In Christ risen we have the full character of that life for our souls now; in our resurrection or change at His coming we shall have it for our bodies.
Along with the truth and the grace thus impressively presented is a short and solemn warning: "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols." Every object outside Christ, that man's heart sets up and cleaves to, Satan makes into an idol. They may not be for the present gold or silver, or stone or wood, but of a subtler nature. Yet the day hastens when the mass of the Jews, little as they deem it possible, will return to their old sin; and so will Christendom, even where they have boasted of their Protestantism, and of their invincible hatred of Romish idolatry. They will even amalgamate in the coming apostasy, and as both will adore the Man of Sin, the Antichrist when he sits down in the temple of God showing himself as God, so be hurled to perdition with his great political ally the Roman Beast of that day. The Lord is at hand.